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Archive for the ‘vegetables’ Category

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I hardly ever cook large roasts of meat, but when I do, I find like I like the leftovers even more than the original meal. I had lots of fun after Thanksgiving, and found that pot roast makes an amazing soup and sandwich. And roast chicken, to be honest, hardly ever impresses me served plain with dinner, but once it’s cooled and mixed with mayonnaise for some chicken salad, I am one happy camper.

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This time, though, I forwent the mayonnaise for something more interesting. I happened to come across a recipe for chicken artichoke pizza when I had shredded roast chicken, artichokes, and pizza dough in the freezer. I was practically forced to make it. Plus it sounded delicious.

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I made calzones instead of pizza mostly just because I hadn’t made them in a while, but I do think that the sizable chunks of shredded chicken that I wanted to use would be more appropriate in a calzone. Calzones, though, are undoubtedly more work than pizza. Instead of rolling out one round of dough for every 2-3 people, you’re rolling out one per person, and once the ingredients are added, the edges need to be crimped.

The extra work was worth it for me, because I really enjoyed these calzones. Pesto, chicken, and artichokes are a great combination, and it can only get better with cheese.

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One year ago: (Almost) No-Knead Bread

Chicken Artichoke Pesto Calzones (ingredients adapted from Stefany’s pizza, which is adapted from allrecipes; calzone method adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 8

I used mozzarella because I had it, but I think fontina would be even better.

2½ pounds pizza dough (a full recipe of this one would be perfect)
1 cup pesto
1 cup frozen artichokes, defrosted and roughly chopped
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella or fontina cheese
olive oil for brushing

1. Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position, set a pizza stone on the oven rack, and heat the oven to 500 °F (260°C) for at least 30 minutes. Turn the risen dough out onto an unfloured work surface. Divide the dough into eight equal pieces. Gently reshape each piece of dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, and let the dough rest at least 15 minutes but no more than 30 minutes.

2. Working with one piece of dough at a time and keeping the other pieces covered, stretch and pull the dough into a 7- to 8-inch round. (I don’t like to roll pizza dough, but I suppose you could if you prefer.) Set it aside while you stretch out the remaining rounds of dough. You’ll want to form and fill just four at a time, and then work on the other four while the first set bakes. (Cooks Illustrated stacks the rounds with squares of parchment paper in between; I like to use a kitchen towel.)

3. Spread 2 tablespoons pesto onto each round of dough, leaving about a 1-inch border around the edge. Divide the toppings evenly between the eight dough rounds, forming a pile in the center of the bottom half of each dough round and leaving a 1-inch border uncovered.

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4. Fold the top half of the dough over the filling-covered bottom half, leaving ½-inch border uncovered. (The photo above shows how the dough doesn’t overlap all the way. Look at the left half of the photo, where the dough isn’t crimped yet.) With your fingertips, lightly press around the silhouette of the filling and out to the edge to lightly seal the dough shut.

5. Beginning at one end of the seam, place your index finger diagonally across the edge and gently pull the bottom layer of the dough over the tip of your index finger; press into the dough to seal. (Hopefully the same picture  helps illustrate this.) Repeat the process until the calzone is fully sealed.

6. With a pastry brush, brush the tops and sides of the calzones with olive oil. Carefully transfer the calzones to parchment paper; slide the calzones on the parchment onto a pizza peel or rimless baking sheet, then slide the calzones with parchment onto the hot pizza stone, spacing them evenly apart. Bake until the calzones are golden brown, about 11 minutes; use a pizza peel or rimless baking sheet to remove the calzones with the parchment to a wire rack. Remove the calzones from the parchment, cool 5 minutes, and serve. While the first batch of calzones bakes, form the second batch and bake them after removing the first batch from the oven.

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spinach bread

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Someone asked me recently if I save posts for certain times when I think they’ll be more popular. I said that I didn’t; I just post when I have something ready, although I usually have a bit of a queue to choose from. But then I realized that I had just made green bread, and of course it’s more fun to look at green bread near the middle of March than it is in February!

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The color comes from cooked spinach, which I recently said that I don’t like, but when I said that, I meant I don’t like it plain. I like it quite a bit when it’s mixed in with dough. Seriously, what doesn’t get better when you mix it with flour?

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The finely chopped cooked spinach is kneaded into fairly traditional bread dough, which is then treated like any other bread – it rises, is shaped, proofed, baked, and cooled. The result is a spring green, pleasantly spinachy, tender loaf of bread, which can then be made into the best egg salad sandwich ever, or a mean grilled cheese. Which would be perfect served along some green beer for St. Patrick’s Day, don’t you think?

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One year ago: Spaghetti and Meatballs

Spinach Bread (adapted from Ultimate Bread, by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno)

You could probably use frozen spinach for this instead of cooking your own. The instructions are for a long loaf, but you can make this bread into pretty much any shape you want.

5 ounces spinach
2 teaspoons instant yeast
3½ cups (17.5 ounces) unbleached flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup water, room temperature
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil

1. Place cleaned spinach leaves and any water that clings to them in a nonreactive soup kettle. (If you’re using pre-washed bagged spinach, add 2 tablespoons water to the pot). Cover and cook over medium-high heat until spinach wilts, 2-4 minutes. Cool spinach slightly and squeeze out the excess liquid. Chop very finely, or puree in a food processor.

2. Mix the flour, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Turn machine to low and slowly add the water, then the spinach and oil. When dough comes together, increase the speed to medium and mix until dough is smooth and satiny, stopping machine two or three times to scrape dough from hook if necessary, about 10 minutes. If after 5 minutes, the dough sticks to the sides of the bowl, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.

3. Lightly oil a large bowl. With floured (or lightly oiled) hands, shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to the bowl, rolling it to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 1½ hours. Press to deflate, then let rest for 10 minutes.

4. Gently pat the dough into a rough rectangle. Fold the bottom third of dough, letter style, up to the center and press to seal, creasing surface tension on the outer edge. Fold the remaining dough over the top and use the edge of your hand to seal the seam closed and to increase the surface tension all over. Press evenly with the palms of both hands and roll the dough backward and forward until it is 10 inches in length. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Place the loaf on the pan and lightly dust with flour. Cover loosely with plastic wrap.

5. Proof at room temperature for about 45 minutes, or until the loaves have grown to about twice their original size.

6. About half an hour into the second rise, place a baking stone* on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 450F.

7. Using a very sharp knife or a serrated bread knife, cut 5 diagonal slashes, each about ¼ to ½-inch deep, across the top of the loaf. (Alternatively, cut one long slash that extends for the length of the loaf.)

8. Transfer the dough on the parchment paper to a peel or the back of a sheet pan. Transfer the dough to the baking stone. Close the oven and reduce the temperature to 400 degrees. Bake until golden brown and the temperature is around 200 degrees** at the center, 30-40 minutes.

9. Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack and cool for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving.

*If you don’t have a baking stone, simply bake the loaf on a baking sheet at 400F for 45 minutes.

**If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, tap the bottom of the hot baked loaf. It should sound hollow when the bread is done baking.

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I would not have predicted a couple years ago that kale would become one of my favorite vegetables. Or that one of my favorite ways to eat it would be topped with an egg.

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I recognize that the dark olive green color of cooked kale may appear unappetizing. Furthermore, it’s a leafy green vegetable, which we’re trained from childhood to distrust. To be honest, I still don’t even like cooked spinach – too mushy, if not in reality, then certainly in my mind.

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Kale, though, retains a nice crunch after it’s cooked, because it’s much heartier than spinach. It has an earthy flavor, which I know makes it sound like it tastes like dirt, but to me, it’s more of an umami-type meaty flavor.

The problem is that the only way I had prepared kale before this was by braising it, which, although delicious, takes at least half an hour. This roasted method takes, I kid you not, only ten minutes in the oven, and the kale is just as tasty.

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The texture of roasted kale is a little different from braised. Some of the leaves, those on the edges of the baking pan I suppose, were a little crispy, while some of the kale was more moist. Both textures were fine by me.

With a lovely poached egg on top, and some mustardy roasted potatoes, kale makes a delicious, hearty, easy, and healthy meal.

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One year ago: Banana Walnut Pancakes

Roasted Kale (slightly reworded from Tuesday Recipe)

Serves 2, generously

1 bunch kale (about ½ pound)
extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt or kosher salt
sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

1. Preheat the oven to 425F. Cut the stems off the kale and discard; rinse and shake the leaves dry. Stack the leaves and cut them crosswise into strips about 1 inch wide. Put the kale in a big bowl and drizzle with enough olive oil to coat well (about 2 tablespoons). Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt, then gently toss the leaves. Spread the kale on a large rimmed baking sheet and pop it in the oven. Set the bowl aside without washing it.

2. Roast the kale until some of the leaves are tinged with brown, about 7 minutes. Remove baking sheet and stir the kale around, then put it back in the oven for another 3 minutes or so until all the leaves are starting to crisp. Immediately put the leaves back in the bowl you first tossed them in, then drizzle with another tablespoon of oil and a few splashes of vinegar. Toss kale with the tongs, taste, and add more oil, vinegar, or salt as needed. Toss again and serve right away.

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When my sister plans meals for once-a-month freezer cooking, she usually tests a small batch of a recipe before making a larger batch to freeze. This is good practice, I recently learned. A few months ago, I made vegetarian chili to bring on a camping trip, and even though I was experimenting with the recipe, I was confident enough that it would turn out great that I made a huge batch and froze half. Mistake!

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There are a lot of recipes where I think ground meat is just extraneous, and chili is a great example. There are so many other flavorings in chili that it doesn’t usually taste beefy, and the beans provide plenty of protein, so the meat isn’t nutritionally required either. It’s just filler, and expensive, sort of unhealthy filler at that.

When I noticed that my favorite vegetarian chili recipe was very similar to my favorite beef chili recipe, except for the beef, I decided to combine parts of each that I liked. Where I screwed up the first time was in not taking into account that with less filler, I’d need less tomatoes as well. The result was (a huge pot of) chili-flavored spaghetti sauce (that I had to share with friends on the camping trip – sorry guys!).

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And before I could give it another try, I had to finish all of the frozen way-too-tomatoey stuff in the freezer. When I did finally make vegetarian chili again, I knew exactly what changes I wanted to make. I made a smaller batch this time, just in case, but wouldn’t you know it that I totally nailed it this time with a rich, spicy, meaty-even-without-meat bowl of chili that gets even better when topped with an assortment of garnishes.

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One year ago: Salmon Cakes, Flaky Biscuits, Hashed Brussels Sprouts – I made almost this exact same meal again recently (different biscuits though), and it’s just so good.  Restaurant quality food for sure.

Vegetarian Chili (adapted substantially from Jeanne Lemlin’s Vegetarian Classics and Cooks Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe)

I like to chop up the tomatoes a bit before adding them to the chili. I usually just stick a pair of kitchen shears into the can of tomatoes and start snipping.

I’ve never actually added the butter, in an effort to reduce the fat in the recipe. However, I’m guessing it helps mimic the richness that beef would provide.

2 tablespoons olive (or vegetable) oil
2 medium onions, diced
1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely diced
6 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1½ teaspoons ground coriander
¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
Garnishes: lime wedges, sour cream, cheddar cheese, scallions, red onion, cilantro

1. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the onions, bell pepper, garlic, and spices and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.

2. Add the tomatoes, beans, salt, and soy sauce. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the chili to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cook, covered, at a low simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. If the chili is too thin, cook uncovered until it’s your preferred consistency. Stir in the butter and serve with the garnishes.

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A third grader was telling me once about her favorite restaurant, and she said that it served “eggs and bagels and bacon and everything good.” That’s kind of how this sushi roll is – full of fish and cream cheese and avocado and everything good. And then it’s fried.

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The first time Dave and I tried sushi, we were visiting friends, who took us to one of their favorite sushi restaurants. We ordered a crispy bagel roll, and it was so good! I haven’t found even one restaurant since then that serves anything similar. After almost two years of my friends mentioning that they went out for sushi and enjoyed the crispy bagel roll, I decided I’d have to try to re-create it at home.

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I made sushi rolls a few times last year, and it wasn’t a disaster, but it was a lot of work, and I always ended up frustrated because my dull chef’s knife couldn’t cut through the nori. But since then, I’ve acquired a new knife and new inspiration from Jen, who makes homemade sushi seem so approachable.

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Bagel rolls aren’t original to the restaurant I had them at, but recipes differ slightly. I looked up their menu and found that their version includes pretty much all of my favorite sushi ingredients – fish, cream cheese, avocado – everything good indeed. If I recall, they serve theirs with aioli, but I opted to just mix the mayonnaise with the fish before forming the roll.

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And then there’s the “crispy” part. The rolls are delicious without frying, so if you want to stop here, be my guest! Making tempura batter, heating oil, and deep-frying the rolls adds a significant amount of work to an already labor-intensive meal. But it’s a fun way to give this roll a different flavor profile than a lot of other sushi rolls.

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This roll lends itself especially well to being made at home, because it calls for smoked salmon, so there’s no worry about finding or working with quality raw fish. (Um, except that the pictures show tuna, because we love tuna. But smoked salmon makes more sense in this roll.) Plus, the roll is full of everything good. How can you go wrong?

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Note: I added a new page. It discusses some basics of food photography. If you’re already comfortable using your camera in its manual setting, this page isn’t for you. However, if you’re new to having a food blog and you’re frustrated by the photos you’re taking and unsure of how to improve them, maybe this page can help.

One year ago: Olive Oil Bread

Bagel Rolls (rice recipe adapted from Alton Brown)

Unfortunately, I can’t share the tempura batter recipe I used because it’s I recipe I tested for Cooks Illustrated, and it isn’t published yet. However, I think this one would work fine. I fried the rolls at until they were just slightly browned. I didn’t want the filling to cook, or even get warm really.

The only part of making homemade sushi that I haven’t nailed down is how much of the sheet of nori to use. The whole sheet is too much and ends up forming a spiral, but a half sheet isn’t quite enough to fit the fillings. I ended up using about 3/5 of the sheet and saving the scraps for Sushi Bowls.

Makes 4 rolls, serving 2 people

Rice:
1 cup sushi rice
1 cup water
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt

Filling:
4 (8- by 7-inch) sheets nori (see comments above)
4 ounces smoked salmon
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 avocado, sliced
2 ounces cream cheese
2 teaspoons sesame seeds

For serving:
Wasabi
Pickled ginger
Soy sauce

Rice:
Rinse rice and let drain for 30-60 minutes. (I often skip this without any huge loss in quality.)

Place the rice and water into a medium saucepan and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, uncovered. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.

Heat the rice vinegar, sugar and salt (either in a small pot on the stove or in the microwave) until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer the rice into a large wooden or glass mixing bowl and add the vinegar mixture. Fold and cut thoroughly to combine and coat each grain of rice with the mixture. Fan until rice is near room temperature. Do not

Chop the salmon into approximately ⅛-inch pieces and mix it with the mayonnaise. Fill a small bowl with tap water and place it near where you’ll be doing the rolling.

Lay a sheet of plastic wrap over a bamboo rolling mat. Lay 1 sheet of nori, shiny side down, on the plastic wrap. Wet your fingers with water and spread ¼ of the rice evenly onto the nori. Sprinkle the rice with ½ teaspoon sesame seeds. Flip the nori over so that the rice faces down onto the plastic wrap. Place ¼ of salmon mixture, the avocado, and the cream cheese in the middle of the nori. Use the plastic wrap to roll the nori and rice around the fillings, as tight as possible without squeezing the fillings out. Use the bamboo mat to shape and compact the roll. Leave the roll covered in the plastic wrap while you use the remaining ingredients to make three more rolls.

If you’re frying the sushi rolls: Heat 2-3 quarts of canola, vegetable, or peanut oil to 400C in a Dutch oven that holds at least 5 quarts. Remove the plastic wrap from a roll. Dip the entire roll into tempera batter. Fry one roll at a time for about 2 minutes, until the batter is firm and slightly browned. Drain on a cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining rolls, making sure that the oil is at 400 degrees before adding the next roll.

Remove the plastic wrap from the rolls (if you didn’t fry them). Cut each roll in half, then half again and again to make 8 pieces for each roll. Serve with wasabi, pickled ginger and soy sauce.

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I don’t blame Tuesdays with Dorie for my pants being too tight to button by the end of 2008.  I blame unemployment.   Instead of grabbing my standard healthy snacks and eating them at work because they were the only food available, I would pass over the bananas and carrots at home and fill up on cookie dough instead.

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So one of my goals for 2009, since I’m still working at home a few days per week, is to make those healthy snacks more enticing. For bananas, it’s as simple as eating them with peanut butter or Nutella. The carrots, or whatever other raw vegetable I end up eating, cry out for some sort of dip. But anything based on mayonnaise and/or sour cream just defeats the purpose.

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Fortunately, there’s plenty of bean dips out there to explore. This one, which isn’t like traditional hummus at all, is based on lima beans, a bean that I don’t have much experience with. The cooked lima beans are pureed along with aromatics, herbs and seasonings.

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The original recipe called for the onion and garlic to be boiled along with the beans, but who wants boiled onion? Yuck. I took many of the recipe reviewers’ recommendations to sauté the onions and garlic instead. The recipe also calls for mint and dill, but I didn’t have any and didn’t miss it. Finally, I reduced the olive oil just a bit, since the whole point here is to make a healthy snack.

The resulting dip is a pretty green color with a very nice, sort of sweet, flavor. It made my daily carrot, which I guarantee wouldn’t have gotten eaten otherwise, much more enjoyable, but no less healthy.

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One year ago:  Moo shu

Herbed Lima Bean Hummus (adapted substantially from Gourmet, via epicurious)

Makes about 2 cups

1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving, if desired
½ large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed with side of a large knife
½ teaspoon salt
1 (10-oz) packages frozen baby lima beans
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon ground cumin
⅛ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil in medium skillet. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they’re just starting to brown around the edges. Add the garlic and salt, stir, then remove from the heat.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring lima beans and 1 cup water to a boil over high heat. Cover, lower heat, and simmer for 6-8 minutes, until tender. Drain.

3. Add onion mixture, beans, and all remaining ingredients to a food processor and process until smooth. Add more oil if the dip seems too thick.

4. Transfer dip to a serving bowl and drizzle with remaining tablespoon oil, if desired. Serve with crudité or toasted pita wedges. (Dip can be covered and stored in refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

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I think every food blogger recognizes that there are copyright issues with what we do. Very few of us have only original recipes on our blogs, which means the recipes we publish are from other sources – sources who would prefer that people pay money for their recipes instead of stumbling upon them in a blog.

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Most of us dutifully provide the source of the recipe and then hope for the best. It’s also fairly common knowledge among bloggers that one loophole is to write out the recipe directions in our own words, because ingredient lists can’t be copyrighted. Not that this is foolproof – it’s the creative idea that is copyrighted, not the wording of the directions.

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It’s not unlike birth control – the only method to guarantee that you won’t get into trouble is to abstain from blogging. If you’re not willing to do that, you take whatever precautions you’re willing to and then hope for the best.

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The idea for this particular recipe comes from Cooks Illustrated. I used to make it once a month or so, since it’s easy, balanced, and fairly healthy. I hadn’t made it in over a year, but I decided not to look up the recipe. I still remembered the gist of it, and this way I could make it my own, thus avoiding the whole copyright issue. Besides, I was fairly certain that I wouldn’t be able to combine these ingredients and get anything that wasn’t good.

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These are simply lightened-up twice-baked potatoes. I cut the broccoli into bite-sized florets, steamed them, and seasoned them with lemon juice and a bit of salt. Then I mashed up the baked potato innards with just enough butter to moisten them, and stirred in enough buttermilk to get the texture I was looking for – moist but not wet. Buttermilk is great with potatoes because it tastes like sour cream but isn’t nearly as fattening. I tried to be judicious with the cheese, and then scallions provided the perfect overtone of onion flavor. I stuffed the shells with the filling and put the whole thing under the broiler for a few minutes to reheat it and melt the cheese. (The final step, of course, is to drop it on the counter while transferring it from the baking sheet to a plate.)

The result is the ideal healthy-ish one-dish-meal baked potato. The shells are crispy, the broccoli is cooked just right, the potato filling is creamy, and the flavors meld perfectly. Cooks Illustrated couldn’t have done it any better.

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One year ago: Country Crust Bread – my favorite sandwich bread

Twice-Baked Potatoes with Broccoli, Cheddar, and Scallions

Serves 2

This is admittedly heavy on the broccoli. You can use less if you prefer, but we like broccoli and it’s so healthy.

2 medium to large baking (russet) potatoes
2 small (or 1 large) broccoli crowns, cut into 1-inch florets with stems no longer than 1 inch
½ teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter, softened
½ cup buttermilk
1 scallion, sliced then
1 ounce (¼ cup) cheddar, plus ½ ounce (2 tablespoons)
salt
black pepper

1. Move an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the potatoes and stab them several times with a fork. Place them on the oven rack and bake until a fork inserted into the potato meets no resistance, 60-75 minutes.

2. Remove the potatoes from the oven and set them aside until they’re cool enough to handle. Heat the broiler. Meanwhile, bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Place the broccoli florets in a steamer basket and put the steamer basket in the saucepan, making sure that the water does not come into contact with the broccoli. Cover the pot and steam for 4 minutes, until the broccoli is just crisp-tender. (You want it more on the crisp side, since they’ll continue to cook as they cool, plus they’ll spend some time under the broiler.) Remove the steamer basket with the broccoli from the saucepan and discard the water in the pot. Dump the broccoli into the pot and season with a pinch of salt and the lemon juice.

3. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the flesh of the potatoes, leaving a thin coating on the potato skin. In a medium bowl, use a potato masher to mash the potato flesh with the butter. Stir in ¼ teaspoon salt, a pinch of ground black pepper, the broccoli, plus the remaining ingredients, except ½ ounce cheddar.

4. Spoon the filling into the potato shells and top with the remaining cheddar. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese is spotty brown and the tops are crisp. Serve immediately.

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Obviously I like baking desserts along with the Tuesdays with Dorie group every week, but you know what else I like? Every once in a while, it’s fun to choose my own dessert. Revolutionary, I know. I always get excited when I see a savory recipe chosen for TWD, because that leaves one extra dessert recipe that I get to pick out for myself.

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These corn muffins have three types of pepper in them – red pepper, jalapeno, and black pepper. Other than that, it’s a fairly typical cornbread recipe where the liquid and dry ingredients are mixed separately before being folded together. I made the muffins mini, because my mini muffin pan is new and fun.

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I thought the muffins were really good. There were a couple members of the group who didn’t like how sweet they were. I understand there’s a battle between sweet and not-sweet cornbread lovers, but I’m a solid member of the sweet crowd, so I thought the flavor of these was great.

Rebecca will post the recipe.

One year ago: Banana Cream Pie

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Last month, I was looking at pictures with my 2-year-old nephew, and when we came to a picture of my sister when she was six months pregnant, he pointed to her and said, “That’s Aunt Bridget!” Wow, thanks buddy. I know my pants fit kind of tight lately, but at least they’re size-six pants!

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So I’m thinking I should eat more salads. Okay, that isn’t the reason – mostly, I just like salads. I like salads served either as the main dish or before the rest of the meal. Too often salads are an afterthought pieced together from iceberg lettuce, out-of-season tomatoes, and bottled dressing, and they’re served alongside a meal that they don’t compliment.

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I know chopped salad hardly needs a recipe – just take your favorite vegetables and serve them over lettuce. I’m just excited about this particular combination – in about a week, I had it for dinner twice and lunch once.

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My salad includes romaine lettuce, along with carrots, cucumbers, celery, red pepper and red onion. I added hard-boiled eggs for protein and avocado to mellow the tartness of the vinaigrette. I chopped everything except the lettuce into about ¼-inch cubes, which made them easy to scoop up with a fork. There’s just enough lettuce to get maybe one small piece with each forkful of chopped vegetables.

Nothing makes me feel healthier than eating a big bowl of salad for dinner. And that makes me look forward to dessert that much more.

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Chopped Salad (adapted slightly from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

Serves 4

Vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons vinegar – good choices include balsamic, sherry, red wine, white wine
¼ teaspoon salt
pinch black pepper
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 medium carrots, peeled
4 stalks celery stalks, preferably from the heart, washed
1 medium red onion
1 medium red bell pepper, washed
1 regular-sized cucumber or 2 english cucumbers, washed
1 avocado, halved, seed removed, flesh scooped from skin
2 hardboiled eggs, peeled
2 romaine hearts, washed and dried

1. For the vinaigrette: Combine all ingredients in a jar with a tightfitting lid and shake until combined.

2. For the salad: Chop all ingredients except romaine into ⅛- to ¼-inch cubes and place in large bowl. Cut romaine into approximately 1-inch pieces and add to bowl.

3. Add vinaigrette to salad ingredients and mix thoroughly. Serve.

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Wow, New Years Resolutions are seriously unpopular this year. While I understand that January 1st isn’t a magical date where you get to start over with a clean slate, and it isn’t the only day of the year where you’re allowed to resolve to better yourself, I do think that it’s a good date to start thinking about new goals. For one thing, there is something to having a fresh new year to focus on. For another, it’s the official end of the holiday season, during which it can be difficult to focus on new goals because of travel and parties and other things that disrupt normal routines.

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This isn’t to say that I’ve always been a hard-core New Year’s resolver. I don’t usually bother, and last year I kept it very simple with the intention to start flossing regularly. This year, however, I have a categorized list of goals. 2008 wasn’t my best year, and I’m eager to make up for it in 2009.

One of my resolutions is actually to cook less, or at least to be more reasonable about cooking, by focusing on quick weeknight meals and making enough for leftovers. This pasta fits in perfectly with that mindset, because it can be made in the time it takes to boil water and cook pasta and uses only a few ingredients.

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There’s nothing complicated about this recipe. Brown some sausage, stir in garlic and roasted red pepper, and then add broccoli with some water to help it cook. Mix all that with pasta, add some cheese, and there’s dinner – you have starch, protein, and vegetables, all in one very easy recipe. And there’s the added bonus that both broccoli and garlic are even more nutritious than your average vegetable.

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The recipe recommends orechiette (an ear-shaped pasta), but I don’t generally get hung up on pasta shapes. My favorite brand of pasta doesn’t come in orechiette, so I tend to use whatever short tubularish pasta I happen to have. Also, this time I used Cento jarred roasted red peppers, and I hated them. They were so soft and slimy. Cooks Illustrated recommends them, so I don’t know if I got a bag batch or I’m a bad judge of roasted red peppers or what. Since roasting my own peppers complicates this simple meal, I might just sauté some fresh red peppers with the sausage in the future.

I find that I often like recipes with quite a bit less pasta than the original version calls for, and this recipe is no exception. I reduced the pasta to 12 ounces, plus I wouldn’t have minded more sausage and red peppers. Either way you prefer it, this meal is quick, tasty, and healthy.

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One year ago: Pad Thai – one of my favorite meals

Orecchiette with Broccoli, Sausage, and Roasted Peppers (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish

CI note: In this recipe, begin cooking the broccoli immediately after putting the pasta into boiling water. When cut into small pieces, the broccoli takes only a few minutes to cook through.

Bridget note: I reduce the pasta to 12 ounces (¾ pound), and I’ll probably add more peppers in the future. More sausage couldn’t hurt either.

table salt
1 pound orecchiette
4 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
9 medium cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press or minced (3 tablespoons)
1 cup roasted red peppers (8 ounces), cut into ½-inch squares
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pounds broccoli, florets cut into bite-sized 1-inch pieces, stalks peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into ¼-inch thick pieces
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (2 ounces)

1. Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil, covered, in stockpot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta, stir to separate, and cook until al dente. Drain and return to stockpot.

2. While pasta is cooking, cook sausage in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking it into small pieces with spoon, until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, roasted peppers, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to high; add broccoli and ½ cup water, then cover and cook until broccoli begins to turn bright green, 1 to 2 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring frequently, until water has evaporated and broccoli is tender, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Add broccoli mixture, oil, and cheese to pasta in stockpot; toss to combine. Serve immediately.

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